1. Describe your business in one sentence
Helping local businesses and residents make the most of their town with a modern, interactive and user-friendly content hub, where anyone and everyone can enjoy and contribute towards the best the town has to offer.
2. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
After being partner at SwindonWeb for nine years I saw a need for an upgraded proposition in towns across the country. The market for all-encompassing town and city guides is still remarkably untapped. I think this is because many are simply focussing on 'What’s On'. Although it's a lot of hard work to cover everything from business, health and fitness, shopping, recruitment and events while doing a good job, to be really useful it needs to cover everything to suit individual tastes.
The explosion of social media has also emphasised that users want to engage with local business and the community so they can focus on local hot topics. We have developed functionality so locals can really get involved with the site rather than just be presented with standard 'local newspaper' style content.
3. What have been your key challenges and how have you overcome them?
Too many ideas with limited time, resources and budget! I have overcome these by setting small achievable targets and taking it one step at a time.
I've also found it hard to let go and delegate. If I had had the time I would have populated the entire website content myself. Fortunately, I realised very early on that my time was better spent out there selling and meeting businesses rather than sat behind a desk adding to the business directory! I have built a team of fantastic and trustworthy freelancers which means I can focus on growing the business (and it makes it easier to sleep at night!). There is obviously an ultimate goal but it would be difficult and demotivating to get there without breaking it down in to bite size chunks. Having a small but fantastic team has also been a key factor in overcoming challenges.
Another challenge which I have to be constantly mindful of is that I know Swindon and the local businesses very well so launching in Swindon meant the business has grown very quickly. It's a constant challenge to keep reminding myself that we are rolling this out across the UK and the needs in each town will differ dramatically. Luckily my investor is from outside of Swindon and is behind the scenes making sure that we 'box' Total Swindon up so that the model can be easily replicated in other areas, no matter how dissimilar they are to Swindon.
4. How have you funded your start-up?
Investment from my business partner Will Seward. We have also been fortunate enough to have a customer base before we went live from clients paying for social media management and training which has helped fund staffing and designs costs. Fortunately, you can start an online company with very little costs and over heads.
5. How do you market your business?
Central to all our marketing is social media and this has played a massive role in building the hype of Total Guide to Swindon. We had over 600 registrants months before the site went live - just from social media. Regular email marketing is a core part of our business. From April, we will also be covering traditional methods with four pages in a local monthly magazine which will be a taster of what's on the site, as well as billboard advertising and sponsoring local roundabouts.
Because of the nature of the business my clients are willing to give us free posters/billboard sites on their premises and we have contra-deals with other local media including local magazines and radio stations.
6. What are your plans for the future?
We plan to roll out 'Total Guide To...' to five other towns and cities by the end of this year. We have decided against the route of franchising and will have managers in each area. The great thing about the business is that the site and content management system behind it can easily be tailor made to suit the needs of the area. Plus, much of the content we already have can be applied across all locations.
7. If you started again, is there anything you'd do differently?
I would have started Total Swindon two years ago and would be well in to roll out across the UK by now. However, I do believe that timing is everything and things happen for a reason!
8. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs based on your business experience so far?
Try not to become daunted and demotivated by what needs to be done to achieve your ultimate goal. Segment everything in to bite-size chunks. Every morning I write a to-do list and take great pleasure in ticking them off in the evening. It may be a simple thing but it really reminds you that you are on the right track and great progress is being made. I will keep doing this until I reach the final goal of rolling 'Total Guide to…' out to every town and city in the UK.
Always have the end product in mind. I'll never forget a sentence in Branson's 'Losing your Virginity' where he said if you visualise your goals and what it will be like when you've met them, you will achieve them. So far everything that I have visualised from the site's look and feel to the team and clients we have onboard has become a reality. If you believe in yourself and your business, and are prepared to live and breathe it, then go for it.